This post has been 25 years in the making.

On December 22, 1995, I was diagnosed with Type 1 (aka juvenile) diabetes. I was 12 years old.

But today, I don’t want to talk about how I’m diabetic.

I want to talk about how I’m disabled.
Until now, I have never identified that way. Even though I’ve always known that I am legally disabled (according to the federal government), I never claimed disability as an identity.
Despite the endless hardships and limitations (and brushes with sudden death), I didn’t feel “entitled” to it: I’m not “really” disabled, I told myself—not like someone who uses a mobility aid, or who is blind or deaf.
I don’t need the same degree of accommodations to function in this society, and I can “pass” as able-bodied, and am therefore not subject to the same kinds of prejudice. I’m “only” chronically-ill. In short I thought that I was so privileged that I didn’t “deserve” to be counted.
I was wrong.

For whatever reason, 2020 was the year I finally started listening to the disability community, and its activists. I’ve learned a few things that I wish everyone who is able-bodied or drunk on ableist thinking (like I was) would understand:
1) Most people who are super-invested in policing who gets to count as disabled are themselves able-bodied. (Thank you, @KeysWalletPh0ne and too many others to name, for helping get this through my head.)
Disabled people understand that each of our experiences is unique, and equally valid. Because it comes from the able-bodied, policing is patronizing (as it turns the disabled into victims in need of defense).
Most importantly, though, policing misrepresents disability as an exclusively binary system (either you’re disabled or you’re not). In reality, while it can be a part of someone’s identity, it’s also a continuum of experiences ...
...that can change depending on someone’s immediate environment, degree of health, aging, etc. (We’re all disabled eventually, if we’re lucky to live long enough.)
Rather than acknowledge this fluidity, we police the boundaries of disability, Othering the disabled body to protect ourselves.
2) Yes, there is a distinction between “chronic illness” and “disability”… but perhaps more so in theory than in practice. Chronic illnesses are also inherently debilitating; and whether in the short-term or long-term, they usually lead to what we recognize as disability.
(e.g., the most common complications for diabetics are amputations and blindness). Similarly, just because you have a well-managed chronic illness does not mean you are not ill or not disabled.
As one inspiring activist explained in a post that began “I don’t know who needs to hear this but” (it was me that needed to hear it), able-bodied people don’t have to invest extensive resources into the exhausting task of managing their bodies to achieve a baseline functionality
3) Ableism is a hell of a drug. I’ve always swept my diabetes under the rug during interviews, because I was afraid that people would think I wasn’t able to do the job. But it was literally only this year that I realized that this means I was afraid of being discriminated against
By refusing to think of myself as disabled—by buying into ableist policing—I have failed to understand my own vulnerability within this society. And I have failed to recognize my bonds of solidarity with other disabled people.
For this, I have been rewarded with the confidence and security of knowing I am not “disabled”—that is, not vulnerable, damaged, less than, ugly, or superfluous (as ableist thinking tells us). This is how ableism works, even against the disabled, who can internalize its voice.
4) Because of how it protects one from discrimination and other injustices, “passing” as able-bodied is a privilege. I know I don’t have to appear disabled if I don’t want to; I get to hide when it’s more comfortable, or safer, or advantageous.
At the same time, passing also has its own unique burdens, as reading message boards on autism and ADHD reminded me. People who “pass” can be challenged to justify their identity or even requests for accommodation.
Basically, passing means that society wants to gas-light you into thinking you’re not disabled; in fact, it will reward you for agreeing. Even as I write this, I am anxious that people will think that I’m really not disabled (even if they won’t say it to my face)
That said, I do acknowledge, 100%, the privileges that I have--in passing and in having the resources to access healthcare and advocate for myself. And I'm challenging myself to see what more I can do to ensure those privileges are a right for all disabled people.
5) There are many who argue that it is precisely the people who “pass” who need to speak up and claim disability as an identity. Disability is stigmatized; but by not being afraid to claim that term, and by showing that I, too, am disabled...
..., I can help normalize disability, while also challenging how disability is defined by the able-bodied. That said: everyone has the right to determine their own identity, and if you don’t want to be disabled—that’s your choice, and that’s okay, too.
And just because I speak up, doesn't mean I plan to speak on the behalf of others; I want all of us to have a bigger platform, which is basically what has brought me to write this thread today.
I’m beyond grateful to everyone who has shared their wisdom with me or held my hand as I sorted all of this out over the past few months. I’m not always going to get it right; I’m new to this language and way of thinking, and I’ll make mistakes.
But I’m glad to finally be on this journey, and to have such excellent guides, and the support of a community that I robbed myself of for far too long.

Happy anniversary to me.

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